Campers should be aware of CO poisoning

By By Jeffrey Jenkins

By Jeffrey Jenkins

Utah’s natural landscape facilitates a myriad of outdoor activities that are among favorite pastimes of both the seasoned outdoorsman and the casual hiker.

These prevalent activities are on the rise, according to a May 2007 report from the National Sporting Goods Association. The group reported that hiking participation jumped 4 percent to 31 million and overnight camping rose 5.7 percent to 48.6 million in 2006. The National Park Service reported 275 million recreation visits in 2007 while Yellowstone National Park reported an increase of 137,000 overnight stays.

The lure of nature’s rustic grandeur is not without its risks. A year-to-date report from revealed that 26 individuals have died as a result of avalanches this year in North America. These tragic statistics are heartbreaking for local residents affected by the recent deaths of loved ones.

The threat of avalanches has caused a number of awareness organizations to rise to help educate about and mitigate the effects of avalanches. The Utah Avalanche Center is one of many. However, there is another danger that kills more outdoorsmen a year than avalanches and is far more preventable.

An average of 30 individuals each year die from carbon monoxide exposure stemming from the use of camping lanterns, portable heaters and stoves, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A typical scenario goes as follows:

After a long day of hiking, hunting or backpacking, you retire to your tent for the evening, exhausted and cold. You turn on the portable heater that releases colorless, tasteless and odorless CO, slip into your sleeping bag, fall asleep and never wake up. The preliminary symptoms that occur before an individual dies of CO exposure include headache, nausea, dizziness and confusion, all of which will lessen the ability of an individual to make a critical life-saving decision if he or she does wake up.

Awareness of the dangers of CO exposure is relatively low and is not adequate to help relieve the high death rate that CO exposure produces every year. As camping participation continues to rise and more Utah residents enjoy the outdoors, a more sustained effort to educate and warn participants is imperative. Warning labels and press releases from the USCPSC, which very few individuals come across, need to be more effective. Thirty is an outrageous number of deaths to occur from such a preventable accident.

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Jeffrey Jenkins